Williams continues strong run for Nats starters

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Trevor Williams didn’t get the opportunity to face a lineup three times in one night very often last season. That was partly due to his role as the Mets’ swingman, in which he bounced between the rotation and bullpen based on need. But it was also a reflection of manager Buck Showalter’s reluctance to let him go too deep into a start and risk damage.

In only three of his nine starts did Williams face a hitter three times, for a grand total of nine plate appearances. (He did have success, allowing only two of them to reach base.)

So the opportunity tonight to face five Astros hitters three times, albeit in an exhibition game that ended in a 5-4 loss, was a big deal for the right-hander, who knows he’s going to be a full-time starter with the Nationals.

“I think no matter who it is, facing the same guy two or three times is going to be important once the season starts,” he said. “Today we went through a normal pregame routine with pitchers meetings and catchers meetings. It was good to get that under our belt.”

As it turned out, Williams had far more success the first two times he went through the Houston order than the third. He cruised through five innings, allowing one hit and one walk on 73 pitches. Then came in the sixth, in which he allowed a solo homer to Jeremy Pena, plus singles to Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu, all of them stepping to the plate for the third time.

“He got through it really well,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The third time through the order was not an issue. I watched him; he did things a little different. He attacked a little bit differently the third time. That’s good. That’s someone who has knowledge about pitching, a veteran.”

In the end, the Nats happily took six innings of one-run ball from Williams, who finished with 96 pitches. Add that to the list of impressive starts this week by a Nationals rotation that was not so good the last time around.

In the last four days, Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Williams have combined to post an 0.75 ERA, with only 15 hits and three walks allowed in 24 innings while striking out 22.

“He threw great,” Williams said, motioning to Gray’s locker next to his. “MacKenzie threw great. Patrick threw great. I expect Chad (Kuhl) is going to throw great tomorrow. This is the culmination of spring training. This last start is really when you go compete and get ready for the season. It’s a good thing for us to all move forward and finish on a high note.”

All four starters completed six innings during this run, no small feat in spring training. Whether it’s a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen, but the Nationals certainly hope it is.

Martinez has talked about the need for his starters to go deeper in games this year after averaging only 4.8 innings last season, second-fewest in the National League.

With young arms in Gore and Gray, the Nats might have to accept some shorter starts. But in Williams and Corbin, there will be an expectation of depth, even though the former didn’t get many opportunities to do it last season in New York.

“There’s going to be some days where we have to keep an eye on him, because he hasn’t done it in a while,” Martinez said. “But if he gives us six innings, that’s going to be awesome.”

Williams, for his part, has no qualms about how he felt physically during his sixth and final frame tonight. The results maybe slipped a bit, but on March 23 that was secondary to him.

“The body was feeling good,” he said. “(Astros starter Luis) García was rolling, too. When that happens, you kind of blank and you look up and it’s already the fifth inning. He was throwing well, too. To get those six ups is important. The volume’s important, too. So I’m glad that we got pretty close to 100 pitches.”

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